It has been eight years since Jack West Jr successfully restored the Machine and prevented the Dark Sun from destroying the Earth, and Jack has been enjoying the quiet life with his family, Zoe and Lily. While he is at ease on the farm, Lily - now twenty years-old - attends Stanford college, and remains good friends with Alby Calvin, who is studying at Caltech.
When both Lily and Alby come to visit the farm, the twins Julius and Lachlan Adamson send them an coded message telling them off a discovery deep in the Mariana Trench; a gateway covered in Thoth symbols. Zoe, slightly more restless than Jack and yearning for adventure, goes to join them. A few days later, Jack is called to the Pine Gap installation by General Eric Abrahamson regarding something detected by its top secret telescopic array. Jack journeys there in the Sky Warrior with Lily, Alby and Sky Monster, as well as Horus and their dogs Ash and Roxy, while Stretch and Pooh Bear promise to meet them there.
At Pine Gap, Abrahamson and his soon-to-be-replacement, Conor "Redbeard" Beard, inform Jack that the telescopic array has discovered a rogue galaxy hurtling across the universe, and that a collision with the Milky Way galaxy is imminent. Jack notes that the galaxy is shaped like a tetra-gammadion, a symbol that had been around for thousands of years in several cultures, and suspects that an ancient culture may have known about it, and promises to do so digging to see if he can find a solution. However, the room is filled with a nerve gas, and Redbeard suddenly kills Abrahamson. Jack, before passing out, leaves a message behind for his friends before Redbeard has him and the others are abducted. A short time later, Stretch and Pooh Bear arrive and find an injured Horus and Jack's message, showing the tetra-gammadion and the initials for Jack's mother's name.
Jack awakens in a locked cell with his head shaved and struggles to recollect the last things that happened to him. He is then attacked by a man in a bull-shaped helmet resembling a minotaur. Jack kills the man and leaves the cell to find himself in an arena with several other men, most of whom were prepared for the attack. The group is addressed by a man calling himself Hades, who is spectating them along with several men and women in expensive clothing, and announces that the sixteen men are the sixteen champions chosen to take part in the Great Games of the Hydra. Throughout several challenges, they are to acquire one of nine spheres of golden quartz, until only one champion remains and all the Spheres are collected. One of the other men protests that he had been kidnapped and refuses to participate; this man is executed by virtue of an explosive embedded in his neck by Hades' Games Keeper, Vacheron. As Jack realises that all of the Champions have such explosives in their necks, as well as a peculiar gemstone, the executed man's hostages are also killed, and Jack spots Lily and the others among the several hostages.
The fifteen Champions (two of whom are Minotaurs who were not defeated by their opponents, and are now taking their place in the Games) are swiftly thrust into the second Challenge; a pit that is filling with water, through which those who don't make it through in time will drown. During the Challenge, Jack and one of the Minotaurs are attacked by a pair of lion-helmeted figures known as Chaos and Fear; Jack evades his opponent while the Minotaur drowns. Jack barely makes it out in time, and the Champion who retrieved the Golden Sphere, an SAS Major named Gregory Brigham, is offered a reward by Hades for doing so. Brigham, having clearly been preparing for these Games, requests that another Champion be executed, which is quickly carried out. The remaining Champions are allowed a brief respite to consult with their respective hostages before the next Challenge, and once Jack recalls how they were caught, they are approached by none other than Iolanthe Compton-Jones.
Iolanthe admits to having Jack kidnapped for participation in the Great Games, but upon learning that Jack and the others have never even heard of the Great Games through all of their experiences, then reveals that she and the European royals whom Jack and his team faced towards the end of the Dark Sun mission are one of four royal kingdoms known as the Four Legendary Kingdoms. Having been granted great knowledge by the mysterious race of super-ancient beings in ages past, the Four Kingdoms known as Land, Sea, Sky and Underworld, have secretly ruled the world for millennia. The fourth Great Games are an ancient ritual which precludes the incoming Hydra galaxy Jack was informed about. Each Champion is sponsored by one of the four Kingdoms, and each Kingdom has four Champions; Jack was brought in as a last minute replacement after one of the Kingdom of Land's particpants was accidentally killed. Only by completing the Games can the Hydra Galaxy be diverted, via a mysterious mechanism within a mountain-like structure in their location, known as the Underworld. When Jack questions why they do not simply lay the Spheres and be done with it, Iolanthe explains that the Spheres themselves will know if they have been truly earned by a Champion by virture of the gemstones in each Champions' neck; only by completing the ritual at the conclusion of the Great Games will mankind survive.
At that moment, Hades arrives, and Jack questions how he could kill the protesting Champion with ease and watch the blood-shed with the other royals so nonchalantly. Hades defends himself by saying he is only doing his duty as the King of the Underworld to see the Great Games through, as have all of his predecessors who also used the title of Hades. He then requests that Lily come with him, noting that because she is the latest Oracle of Siwa, she is royalty herself. Though Lily is reluctant, Jack suggests that she use the opportunity to avoid being killed if he should fail, and to gather as much information as she can on the royals and the Games.
Everyone is brought to the third Challange, and the Champions are told to select a hostage to be handcuffed to; Jack chooses Sky Monster. They then begin the Challange, and are faced with several obstacles, including Minotaurs, battle elephants and spiked iron balls. Brigham and another Champion known as the Ghorka sacrifice their partners to get a lead on retrieving the Golden Spheres, and Jack and Sky Monster struggle through until the pilot is injured breaking their cuffs so that Jack might have a chance. The second Minotaur Champion is killed and Brigham gets the Sphere, and is thus afforded a way out of the arena, and the remaining Champions are forced to race to another exit with the last two Champions will be executed. With the Minotaur is already gone, Jack is forced to kill the Ghorka to secure his life, and then goes back for Sky Monster. However, he notices a pinned Minotaur being abandoned and so he rescues it before leaving, following the established rule that a Champion can keep anything they retrieve during the Challenges. Brigham is afforded another reward, and chooses another Champion to be executed; Jack realises he is taking out the next-ranked competition.
Meanwhile, Stretch and Pooh Bear meet with Jack's historian mother, Mabel 'Mae' Merriweather, and show her Go-Pro footage taken by Horus of Iolanthe kidnapping Jack, and the tetra-gammadion symbol. Mae correctly guesses the involvement of the Four Kingdoms, having been trying to prove their existence for years, and explains some of her theories about their involvement throughout history. She also guesses correctly the truth about the tetra-gammadion. Isaac Newton, she reveals, had hypothesized the existence of the Hydra Galaxy, and was an adviser to the Four Kingdoms. Mae is uncertain, however, as to what is currently happening, so she, Stretch and Pooh Bear begin researching connections between Newton, the Hydra Galaxy and suspected members of the Four Kingdoms.
Lily, essentially in Iolanthe's care, is brought to a banquet dinner, where she makes several notes of her surroundings. Hades, introducing himself properly as Anthony DeSaxe, informs Lily about how Earth has been watched from afar by the super-ancient beings, who have been testing humanity through the challenges of the Tartarus Rotation and the Repelling of the Dark Sun. Lily meets Cardinal Ricardo Mendoza, a member of the Catholic Church whom she recalls Jack being briefed on years earlier, who is present at the Games since the Church in fact serves the Kingdom of Land. Though disturbed by the lewd Cardinal, Lily is shocked when Iolanthe introduces her to Hades' son Dion, a young man Lily had briefly dated while at Stanford and has clearly known who she was all along. Further disgusted by the excitement of Dion's friend, George Khalil, regarding the gory Challenges thus far and the deaths of the innocent hostages and Champions, Lily refuses Dion's invitation to join him as his father's table.
During the night, Jack speaks with E-147, the Minotaur he saved, and realises that in fact he and the Minotaurs are Neanderthal folk as Iolanthe informed him earlier, which serve as a slave army for the King of the Underworld. During the conversation, Jack is surprised to be interrupted by Astro, the Marine he befriended during the Dark Sun mission. As he recognises a female Marine, Gena "Mother" Newman from his Desert Storm days, Astro reveals that they, as well as a third Marine, Tim "Tomahawk" Bowles, are the hostages for another Champion, Shane "Scarecrow" Schofield. As the two Champions size each other up, Scarecrow reveals he too is an unwilling participant, having been tricked into joining by a Delta operator, Major Jeff Edwards, who is also participating as a Champion. Jack is willing to trust the Marine by his connection to Astro, and though Scarecrow is reluctant to do the same, he asks Jack if he has any thoughts on what lies ahead for them, though Jack has no idea.
The following morning, everyone moves to the arena for the Fourth Challenge; a wall-mounted maze containing two Golden Spheres. The Champion and two hostages can work to retrieve either the Spheres guarded by Chaos and Fear, or to catch a 'Sacred Stag' - a malicious-looking jester known as Mephisto - if the exit closes before all the Champions leave. In addition, the Champions and hostages will also be hunted by another one of Hades's men, the snake-helmeted Hydra. Jack selects Alby and Roxy for his companions, while Scarecrow takes Astro and Tomahawk.
One Champion attempting to get Chaos's Sphere is killed, however the one guarded by Fear is secured by Zaitan, the second-born son of Hades. Jack's group comes up against Mephisto right after the jester has executed another Champion, however Jack only knocks him out and moves on, just as Victor Vargas grabs the second Sphere. The remaining Champions race for the exit, however Jack stops to rescue DeShawn "the Finisher" Monroe from Fear in the hope that they could defeat Fear together. However the Finisher abandons him and the exit is sealed, and Jack, Alby and Roxy are forced to search for Mephisto to guarantee an exit. Jack scarcely manages to grab the jester and get to the exit before Chaos, Fear and the Hydra catch up to them.
In the midst of their research, Stretch, Pooh Bear and Mae discover that one of Newton's works had recently been purchased by Anthony DeSaxe, whom Mae has suspected of being a member of the Four Kingdoms. Recent intelligence taps for the name DeSaxe turns up a transaction where a blood antiquities dealer, Sunil 'Sunny' Malik, sold an ancient tablet, and reveals a call from Iolanthe to DeSaxe regarding a replacement for the Great Games. Mae guesses that the Games are happening now and Jack has been roped into them, so the trio decide to confront Sunny to find out more about the tablet.
Though Scarecrow commends Jack on his courage, his reluctantly consults his allies on what should happen if they are forced to fight later on; Mother believes Scarecrow could defeat him with some effort. The Champions and hostages are moved on, and Jack and Alby note how the next Challenge looks like the Circus Maximus. Vacheron informs the Champions will all be attended a lunch with their sponsoring Kings, but first Jack has been invited to meet with the Minotaur King. While on their way to meet him, Jack and Alby discuss how they might deal with the explosive in Jack's neck, and Alby suggests that they either take away Vacheron's remote or destroy its relay antennae. Upon meeting Minotus, the Minotaur King asks Jack why he rescued E-147, and Jack replies that he could see how the Minotaur didn't want to die. Minotus laments that while Hades is fair in his treatment of the Minotaurs, his sons are far more cruel, and so thanks Jack for his genuine kindness.
During the lunch, Zaitan and Vargas claim their rewards, and both request exemptions from the Fifth Challenge. Jack meets both the King of Land, Orlando, who is also Iolanthe's brother, and Mendoza. Jack asks the Cardinal about his faction in the Church, and Mendoza explains that the Church is in truth a repository for much information learned from the ancients, particularly the Omega Event, the end of the universe. Furthermore, the Tartarus Rotation and the Return of the Dark Sun were but the first of five tasks set by the super-ancient beings to test life on Earth, and the approach of the Hydra galaxy is the third, and only once Earth proves that they are worthy will the ancients reveal how to survive the Omega Event. Mendoza's expertise on the Event is second only to the Trismagi, three individuals who have guarded three secret cities containing additional knowledge from the super-ancient beings.
While Scarecrow is given a blood additive by his king to increase his chances, Jack surreptitiously questions Orlando about how they royals entered the Underworld, and learns of an entrance within the Minotaur city. He also overhears Dion mentioning to George how all the hostages will be executed after the Fifth Challenge, and confers with Lily to find a way to keep Vacheron from detonating his explosive long enough for him to find a way to free their friends. Before the Champions move on, Jack is accosted by Brigham, who notes how Jack has quickly adapted and is now a threat, and so will use the next reward to kill him if he wins. Lily is also confronted by Dion, who reveals his desire to marry her and take his father's throne with his brother's help. When she rejects the idea of even marrying him, Dion threatens to torture and kill Alby.
When he learns that the Fifth Challenge is a race in vehicles, Jack realises that each of the Challenges so far bear a resemblance to the Twelve Labours of Hercules, meaning that the myths were in fact based on previous Great Games. Soon after the race begins, Jack takes control of Fear's vehicle and crashes it into a water pit, using the commotion to kill the white lion warrior and take his armour. Upon surfacing, he calls to Hades and reveals his realisation about the Labours, and Hades is impressed with Jack's display of courage. The race continues, and Brigham kills the Finisher and takes the Golden Sphere. E-147 points out a road on the course that leads the an exit dock, and so Jack takes out Brigham's vehicle with a sniper rifle and snatches the Sphere from the British Major.
Jack gives Scarecrow the Sphere, telling him about the Royals' plan to execute the hostages, and volunteers to get his people out while Scarecrow takes the race. Scarecrow agrees, and is escorted to the finish line by Jack, who then fires an RPG at the hostage train to derail it before grabbing the rest of his and Scarecrow's hostages. With Lily having stolen Vacheron's remote, they are able to escape the Underworld and emerge on a remote beach owned by Hades in India, but Jack, knowing that Vacheron will have a spare remote and detonate his explosive as soon as he can, remains behind to take out their remaining pursuers. Once Jack is brought back to the Underworld, Vacheron prepares to kill him, but Scarecrow speaks up, requesting to use his reward for winning the Challenge to have Jack's life spared. Hades, though surprised, agrees.
Pooh Bear and Mae meet with Malik in Karachi, and learn that it was Dion and not Anthony who purchased the tablet, which contains the Epic of Gilgamesh along with vague instructions on how to reach the Underworld. Malik turns on the pair, but luckily Stretch is able to use his sniping skills to secure Pooh Bear and Mae's escape. They are then able to use the tablet's instructions to pinpoint the relative location of the Underworld, on a stretch of beach owned and used by Anthony DeSaxe's company.
The Royals and Champions move on to the Summit Temples at the top of the Underworld's mountain antennae, and the first five Golden Spheres are set in place, which causes an obelisk to rise into the sky. With the first ceremony complete, Hades, as the Great Games host, makes several announcements regarding the ascension of several of the member of the Four Kingdoms. Among them is his allowance of the marriage between Lily and Dion, and an agreement with Orlando regarding a marriage between Iolanthe and Vacheron; Jack is the only one who notices the momentary look of distaste on Iolanthe's face.
Everyone moves on to a set of combat platforms where the remaining Challenges - a series of fights to the death, with Chaos being an additional fighter - will take place. Brigham and Zaitan both express the desire to be the one to take Jack's life, though Brigham is given a bye for the first round. The first round ends with Jack killing Vargas, Zaitan killing Renzin Depon (by using concealed blades) and Scarecrow killing Edwards, though Scarecrow is gravely injured in the process.
In the next round, Jack is disheartened to be up against Scarecrow. The Marine tells Jack to kill him because he has a better chance in the remaining Challenges, and shows him something in his hand. Jack reluctantly agrees, and keeps him in a choke hold until he stops breathing. In their battle, Zaitan emerges victorious against Brigham, resulting in him being the one to face Jack in the final Challenge. However, in addition to Zaitan and Chaos (who has been favouring Hades' son during the other Challenges), Jack is also faced with the Hydra. Fortunately, Jack is able to behead the Hydra and send Zaitan and Chaos falling to their deaths.
Unfortunately, the final Challenge is a battle with Hades's bodyguard, the giant dog-helmeted Cerberus. The exhausted Jack, knowing he cannot overcome the final warrior, tries to recall how Hercules defeated him in the myth. When he does, he calls to Hades and asks for permission to bring his warrior to him. Hades and the other Royals are all impressed with Jack's knowledge and humility, and thus is given permission, allowing Jack to win the Great Games.
As they move back to the Summit Temples, Dion confronts Jack about him ruining his plans and promises to have Jack killed once the ceremony is over. Iolanthe tells Jack that because he won, his sponsoring king will be allowed inside a recess in the obelisk. As the signal to the Hydra galaxy is sent out, the king inside the obelisk will receive the Mysteries; knowledge which will make completing the remaining two trials of the ancients far easier. Once the remaining Spheres are set in place, Orlando prepares to enter the recess.
However an explosion distracts everyone. The Minotaurs, led by Jack and Scarecrow's freed hostages, begin making their way up through the mountain and a chopper piloted by Sky Monster, Pooh Bear and Stretch appears and destroys the relay for the explosive chips. After both groups reunited, they sought to rescue their friends, and so in need of an army to do so, Alby approached Minotus and revealed Dion's plan to usurp his father. In the commotion, Orlando attempts to enter the recess, but is stopped by Jack, and so while the signal successfully diverts the Hydra galaxy, the Mysteries are unrecieved by anyone.
As the members of the Four Legendary Kingdoms begin fleeing, Jack confronts Hades, who is shocked by the possibility of humanity failing the remaining two trials, and reveals his sons' treachery. Jack requests that Hades help in completing the remaining with him, having seen that he was the only king during the Games who was not acting selfishly and was only doing his duty. Inspired by Jack's declaration that they save the world the right way, Hades agrees. When they are joined by Lily and Iolanthe, Jack leads them back to the combat platforms and Scarecrow's body.
Revealing that Scarecrow showed him the blood additive he had, and knowing that it would keep the Marine's brain oxygenated for an hour after dying, Jack now revives him successfully, and Scarecrow kills Vacheron when he is about to shoot Jack. As the Minotaurs attack the Royals on the helicopter pad, resulting in the deaths of several members of the Four Kingdoms, Dion confronts Jack's group, but Alby appears and shoots him before he can kill Jack. Minotus allows E-147 the chance to leave with Jack, and then secures a chopper for them, and together they all leave the Underworld, with Hades leaving the realm to the Minotaurs.
Upon arriving at Hades's airstrip, they learn that Orlando and Mendoza are among the few who have escaped the Minotaurs, and Hades is sure that they will begin seeking the Trismagi and the three sacred cities, each of which contains a vault with information that can help them in the remaining trials. However, there is still some time before the fourth trial will even commence, so Jack is willing to leave that for a short time. Scarecrow and his team depart on their own, and Scarecrow tells Jack that should he need help, he will be there.
As they use the Sky Warrior to return to Jack's farm, Jack is attacked by the stowaway Mephisto, but luckily the jester is pulled through a shattered window during the fight. As they touch down, Zoe approaches Jack, having returned from her jaunt in the Mariana Trench with the twins, but is stopped short of sharing what they've found when she sees the state of Jack, as well as Mae, Hades, Iolanthe and E-147. Upon stating that Jack looks like he's been through hell, Jack can only note her choice of words before he begins to explain.
Meanwhile, back in the Underworld, one of many silver coffins that Jack had briefly spotted during the Fifth Challenge begins to open...
Great Games ParticipantsEdit
- Captain Jack "Huntsman" West Jr
- Major Gregory Brigham
- Lieutenant Barrett Johnson
- Tenzin Depon
- Zaitan DeSaxe
- The Gorkha
- Captain Shane "Scarecrow" Schofield
- Major Jeffrey "Ricochet" Edwards
- W.O. DeShawn "The Finisher" Monroe
- Renzin Depon
- Sergeant Victor Vargas
- Sergeant Mauricio Corazon
- Captain Sachin Singh
- Captain Jason Chen
- Lieutenant Wasim Nasiruzzin
- Lieutenant Ravi Mano
Support Teams / HostagesEdit
- Lily West
- Alby Calvin
- Sky Monster
- Ash the Labrador
- Roxy the Poodle
- Gunnery Sergeant Gena "Mother" Newman
- Lieutenant Sean "Astro" Miller
- Lieutenant Tim "Tomahawk" Bowles
The Four KingdomsEdit
- Kingdom of Underworld
- Kingdom of Land
- Kingdom of Sea
- Kingdom of Sky
- Captain Zahir "Pooh Bear" al Anzar al Abbas
- Lieutenant Benjamin "Stretch" Cohen
- Mabel Merriweather
- Sunil 'Sunny' Malik
- General Eric Abrahamson
- General Conor "Redbeard" Beard
- Sergeant Zoe "Princess" West
- Julius "Gunslinger" Adamson (mentioned)
- Lachlan "Quickdraw" Adamson (mentioned)
- Professor David Black (mentioned)
- Seven Ancient Wonders
- The Six Sacred Stones
- The Five Greatest Warriors
- The Four Legendary Kingdoms
- The Three Sacred Cities
- Jack West Jr and the Hero's Helmet
- This book is set eight years after the end of The Five Greatest Warriors
- This novels marks the first time that two main protagonists from Reilly's stories meet; Jack from this series, and Shane Schofield from the Scarecrow Series.
- Within the novel, several references are made to the Scarecrow Series.
- Majestic-12 are mentioned briefly by some of the royals, and it is implied that they "forgot" who they served when they carried out their plan (for a new Cold War).
- Schofield notes once being on Hell Island.
- Schofield, with Jack's help, notes using the same trick "Caesar" Russell used to survive his execution by using a hyper-oxygenated blood additive.
- Within the novel, several references are made to the Scarecrow Series.
- Much like in The Great Zoo of China, some characters' names were used because some fans purchased the opportunity at charity auctions.
- These names are Tony DeSaxe, George Khalil, Tim Bowles and Conor Beard.
- Jack's dogs, Ash and Roxy, also got their names through charity opportunities
- The European Royals that Jack and his team clashed with in the previous novel, The Five Greatest Warriors, are revealed to be one of the Legendary Kingdoms.
- As Orlando Compton-Jones, the King of Land, is mentioned to have taken over from Carnivore, it implies that the Russian Royal was their King until Jack killed him.
- In the novel, Iolanthe notes that several real-world myths (primarily, it seems, the Greek Myths) were based upon the Great Games, the champions (such as Hercules), and the Four Kings (such as Zeus being a powerful King of Land rather than a God).
- 'Ad Majora Natus', the motto of the Kingdom of the Underworld, is the motto of Matthew Reilly's high school, St Aloysius College in Sydney.